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Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

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Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

The demands on our time are greater now than ever before. With information coming at us faster than we can digest it, responsibilities handed to us faster than we can handle them and communication moving at breakneck speed, finding ways to fit as much as possible into your day is a daunting task to say the least. But there is a way to get more done of what you want and need with less distraction, and it’s a strategy that you likely employ for some things already.

You have to schedule stuff. Not just the appointment-specific stuff, but all of the stuff that matters. You can do that by scheduling time blocks.

The one great equalizer that all of humanity has is time. No one has twenty-five hours in their day; we all have twenty-four. How we choose to use those hours is what separates us. By scheduling the stuff that matters (from the urgent to the crucial), you’ll be spending those hours far more wisely. In addition, you’ll be living your days proactively rather than reactively.

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As a writer, I have always made time for writing – specific time, in fact. I have blocked out entire days to do most of what I write and on other days I’ve set aside an hour or tow of uninterrupted time to do the same. But I have found that setting aside blocks of time for writing isn’t enough. I need to set aside time for specific types of writing. There’s blocks of time for my work here at Lifehack, there’s blocks of time for my fiction writing, there’s blocks of time for my personal writing and there’s blocks of time for when I am working on my book project. That’s what I have to do to ensure that I get all of my writing done during the week, and it keeps me focused on the area I’m supposed to be writing on rather than the very broad category of simply “writing” that I’ve used in the past. Narrowing the category down to the specifics has boosted my productivity by keeping me on track and allowing me to fulfill all of my writing needs.

Scheduling: It Isn’t Just For Work Anymore

Oh, and scheduling blocks of time doesn’t just have to involve work-related stuff. I was having coffee with a friend this week and he told me that he blocks out every week a set amount of time to have coffee with me. That’s brilliant. It creates a standing appointment for him that he knows is coming, and it’s something he enjoys doing and doesn’t want to let it slide. During our coffee visits we’re able to disconnect from our devices, have stimulating conversations that stay with us well past our time together and enjoy a quality cup of coffee as well. There weekly get-togethers are something I look forward to every week. Their value lies in the company I’m keeping and the time it gives me to recharge my batteries and replenish my creative juices. So I’m scheduling them as well. They are as crucial to me as my writing, so they can’t afford to be missed.

I have also started to block out time for reading, which is crucial to me as a writer who wants to get better at his craft. There’s an excellent post by Randy Murray on why scheduling reading time can be really beneficial.

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Other areas I’ve started to block out times of my day for include:

Homework time with my daughter/Bedtime preparation with my son. My wife and I trade off on this, where she’ll help her out and I’ll get my son off to bed. Either way, that time is sacred and can’t be moved around. Children need to know that their parents are there to help nurture their minds and spirit and they need to learn routines. This time with them offers both.

Date night with my wife. Even if it’s at home watching a movie or reading together quietly, it’s something that promotes a healthy relationship. While it can be moved around, it is something that we’re trying to lock down. It’s a work in progress – much like a marriage.

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Sporting events on television. I do my best to watch every Cincinnati Bengals football game that I can — as painful as that can be. It’s a Sunday ritual that I truly enjoy, so much so that my family knows that when I put on my jersey that it’s time for the game. It’s easier to stick to these days because I’m able to watch most games in the morning on the west coast, and it’s also easier to stick to since I’m a Bengals fan and they rarely play more than 16 times per year.

How to Lock Down Time Blocks

1. Blocked times should scream out at you when you look at your day planner, online calendar or task management solution. Create an online calendar with a title that does this, use a vibrant colour (perhaps your favourite one) and put all of the stuff that you’re blocking out time for in that calendar. If you use paper, use a different colour pen or write in capital letters to make it stand out among your other items. In a task manager, label or flag it somehow with tags or a similar method that highlights it for you. In order for things to not be missed (especially when you first start doing them), you need to make sure that your eyes don’t miss them.

2. Share these times with those who need to know. My wife subscribes to my Google Calendar so that she can see when I’m absolutely indisposed. She knows when I’m busy in an area that’s been blocked out and doesn’t even try to reach me during those times – or try to shift me away from them in any form. Same with other colleagues that I am working with. Whatever pertains to them, I make sure I let them know. If you don’t use an online calendar, simply draft up a standard email that tells people when you’re either available or when you’re not available. I like to use the former because it’s always better to show them when you can be reached rather than when you can’t.

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3. Stick to the blocked times for 30 instances. In order to make this a habit, you need time to let it stick. Repeat the blocked time for 30 instances if you use a digital calendaring solution and make sure you jot them down the same amount of times if you’re using a good old-fashioned paper system. Not only will the blocked times become part of the flow of your week, but you’ll actually discover how crucial these items your blocking out time for are. You’ll also be able to figure out how much time you really need, whether or not that time or day works for you and much more. Consider this an experiment…and you’re the guinea pig.

I don’t use my task management solution to schedule things; that’s what calendar apps are for. I always look at my calendar when I start my day to see what blocks of time are already mapped out for me. That proactive approach keeps me on task – and on target to get all of the stuff that matters to me done each and every day.

Block out time for that stuff and you’ll block out all the distractions that can keep you from getting that stuff done. It’s time well spent – both now and in the future.

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews Content Production via unsplash.com

More by this author

Mike Vardy

A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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